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Extensive Guide to Roleplaying Chinese


Lei

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Disclaimer: Reformatted and reposted with permission from the original author.

Credits: Mickay

 

Acknowledgements

- As any topic as endless as this, my guide is by no means even close to what one needs to roleplay a Chinese person believably, so do your research. Read and watch movies, roleplay. It will all come in time. Like with anything, at first it seems difficult and you'll reach yourself grasping at stereotypes, it will feel bland, but as you go deeper there is much to be found in this goldmine of roleplay.

- I have learned all of this through trial and error and I still make mistakes, but understanding what I write here will save you a lot of those problem I had to grow out of over the years.
 

This topic concerns only Chinese people, however, Vietnamese and Southeast Asian population remains a huge part of Chinatowns all over the world and shouldn’t be overlooked when picking an ethnicity for your character.

 

 

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1.1 The Problem
 

The most common misconception when it comes to roleplaying Chinese comes from language. When people start roleplaying Chinese, they will go google Chinese names and stumble onto something like Jingyi Chen and go with it. The problem with this is, language affects name choosing, so straight off the bat you’re already making the mistake of not thinking about what the regions are for your character. First, where your character is from (origin region) and second and current residing the city (because for example, there are more Cantonese in some Canadian cities than in some U.S cities like San Francisco). So, for example, if the faction you’re joining is mostly from southern parts of China like Hong Kong (they might’ve been born in the U.S but their fathers and grandfathers were most likely immigrants), they will most likely be Cantonese. So, you already picked a Mandarin name for your character and you will be facing a slight shift in cultural difference. This means, picking a region/dialect for your character is just as important as the ethnicity in the first place (whether you are Chinese or whatever).

PS: Not to say Mandarin characters shouldn’t be roleplayed, there has been influx of recent years of Mandarin speaking immigrants from Taiwan and Mainland China who also have seen prominence in Bay Area. But this is a conscious decision which you’re gonna have to make and a lot of your roleplay depends on making this shift.
 

There are many dialects spoken in China, all varying slightly from each other, they are not completely different languages, but written and translated to pinyin (Chinese in English characters) look different, here is a map for regions and their languages in China.

 

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The map shows there are over ten times more Mandarin speakers than Cantonese (this is the Guangzhou dialect of Yue on the map), so why would I roleplay a Cantonese speaking Chinese?

 

1.2 Regional Immigration to the U.S


There were several waves of Chinese immigration to America. And each wave featured a different type of people from a different region speaking a different set of dialects. The first big wave came in the 1800s with the Gold Rush and the building of the railroads. Most of these immigrants were blue-collar laborers from Guangdong Province so they spoke Cantonese or its close cousin, Taishanese. This until The Chinese Exclusion Act, which was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States. The act was initially intended to last for 10 years, but was renewed in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. It was repealed by the Magnuson Act on December 17, 1943. But, after that, the immigration quotas were set so low that there could only be allowed 105 Chinese immigrants into the U.S per year. when President Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, opening immigration doors to non-Europeans for the first time in American history. At the time, Red China was closed off to the world. As a result, most Chinese immigrants in this generation were from Hong Kong and Taiwan and spoke a mix of Cantonese, Mandarin and Taiwanese (Hokkien). This second wave featured immigrants that tended to be more educated than the previous generation -- students, university graduates, professors, engineers, teachers etc.


The last wave of immigrants shifted again, with the opening up of Mainland China in the 1980s, immigration shifted noticeably towards mainland immigrants. There was also a noticeable spurt of immigration from Hong Kong leading up to the Handover in 1997 but many of those went to fellow commonwealth member Canada (Toronto and Vancouver).

This wave of immigrants ran the entire socio-economic gamut from low-paid undocumented workers who could only find work in Chinese restaurants to sons and daughters of the nouveau riche. Whereas prior Chinese immigrants mostly originated from Southern provinces (Guangdong and Fujian), recent immigrants have come from all over China.

 

1.3 Taishan (Sei Yap)

We can’t consider Hong Kong and Cantonese people in San Francisco without talking about Taishanese people or the Sei Yap Cantonese. Sei Yap represents the second largest Han group in Hong Kong after the group of people originating from the Guangzhou-Sam Yap region. The Sze Yap Cantonese comes from a region in Guangdong in China called Sze Yap, now called Ng Yap, which consists of the cities of Taishan, Kaiping, Xinhui, Enping, Heshan and Jiangmen. The Sze Yap Cantonese group have contributed much to what makes Hong Kong a success. In the 1960s, Hong Kong people of Sze Yap origin represented about 30% of Hong Kong's total population and today this population still increases as more immigrants from the Taishanese speaking areas of Guangdong in mainland China continue to immigrate to Hong Kong. Taishanese demographics are among the most prevalent in San Francisco among Cantonese people today.

 

1.4 Conclusion

 

This means that the older generation families are mostly Cantonese and Taishanese speaking while there are new waves of immigrants that speak mostly Mandarin. However, this varies in neighborhoods as well, so, in the U.S you could have people speak mostly one dialect in an older generation neighborhood (Taishanese, Cantonese) and another in a neighborhood that’s maybe more tourist-oriented and consisting of newer generation immigrants (Mandarin). Everything regarding Chinese dialects and the history affects your character, the way he thinks, talks and the slang he uses, even if he’s an American born who doesn’t speak Chinese (living in Chinatown, this is not as common). More on this when I talk about slang and proverbs.

 

 

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2.1 The Hong Kong (Cantonese) name

 

Hong Kong Cantonese names consist of an English name, a Chinese given name and a Chinese surname. Because Hong Kong people do not give their Chinese given names to strangers easily and are mostly used by close relatives or family members. That’s why they use English names. So for example, someone whose name is Johnny Wan, if he was born in Hong Kong, his full name may be something like Johnny Wan Mo-wah. Johnny being his English name, Wan being his Chinese surname and Mo-wah his Chinese given name. Why Mo-wah is the last is because Cantonese names are written opposite of how names in English are. So if the Chinese film director would be called Kar-wai Wong in the English way, he would be Wong Kar-wai in Hong Kong. Despite this, English names go before the Chinese surname.

 

So, the full thing will follow in say Hong Kong in this order: English name, Chinese surname, Chinese given name. In English in this order: English name, Chinese name, Chinese surname. On GTA World, you would use only two names, though: so it’s best to just put your English name and Chinese surname or your Chinese name and Chinese surname, leaving your Chinese given name out of the equation. This depending solely on if your character was foreign-born or American born, being born in anywhere in China outside of Hong Kong would most likely mean he has no English name. However, people get English names if they go to live in Hong Kong as well, it’s sort of just like a “name yourself” thing. Due to Hong Kong naming people in English and there being a cultural difference between Hong Kong and U.S there are a lot of names that might be weird in English context. So, there are a lot of Sunny Chow’s and Fanny Wong’s. You might see people with really weird names like Shakespeare Ho or Cornelius Ng. Which names are used among groups is really dependant on the group, some people use only nicknames for their friends, some groups refer to each other by given names because they are really close, some people only refer to each other with full names or surnames.


2.2 Mainland and Taiwanese names

Mainland and Taiwanese people usually have names like Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Hu Jintao and Guo Yizhen. They follow the same principle in writing as other Chinese, surname is first and the given name is last. Mandarin speaking people living abroad may also use English names much like Cantonese. They may use more Christian names like Anna Chen or John Bai. Because the number of surnames in Mandarin regions is actually sometimes shockingly small, in recent years people have begun creating new surnames based often on the surnames of both their parents, then taking two-syllable given names. And during the Cultural Revolution, it was not uncommon to give some of one's children the surname of their mother.

 

Finally, to add to the confusion, many Chinese who emigrate will reverse the order of their name, making it sometimes difficult (especially in the case of two-character names) to know which is the surname and which the given name. The Brookings Institute political scientist Cheng Li (or is it Li Cheng?) is a case in point, especially because both Cheng and Li can be surnames.

 

 

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Nicknames are a huge part of Chinese culture. They nickname everything from celebrities to their friends and they are completely savage, witty, weird and hilarious. Much like their proverb and slang is. Chinese humor is just one of the best parts about their cultural identity. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a nickname for your character, or you might even want to leave it to your friends when you roleplay (this might backfire depending on who you roleplay with). The hardest part about all of this is translating them over. Due to Chinese words literally being proverbs, they speak and think about things very differently and that is hard to translate. Some meanings cannot be translated in two words so you will be given a lot of free hands when trying to capture the slang and nicknames and bringing it over to your roleplay. 


Some examples of Chinese humor in celebrity nicknames: 

Nicki Minaj - Spicy Chicken

Kim Kardashian - Aunt Kim

Jennifer Lawrence - Eldest Cousin

Matt Bomer - Peacock
Miley Cyrus - Tongue Bitch

The Weeknd - Brother Potted Plant

 

So this gives us an idea what the gist of it is. The important thing is to remember choosing a nickname is dependant on different variables. The cultural background of where they are from originally, their physical details (maybe they have a weird tattoo, a pig’s nose, a scar on their left cheek, maybe they’re fat etc), their name, everything that defines them. And Chinese will nickname their best friend that, they don’t give a fuck as long as it’s funny and witty. Someone whose name is say Jimmy Lam Ka-fai with a limp may be nicknamed ‘Pirate Jimmy’ or ‘Pirate Lam’ or even ‘Pirate Ka-fai’ depending on his group and if they use English names or surnames or given names mostly among each other. Someone whose first eye-catching physical attribute may be their obesity may be just called ‘Pufferfish’ or ‘Ricebucket’ attributing only their fatness and nothing else. It’s all about creativity when it comes to this one. Nicknames are also about hierarchy. So if someone is the big brother (dai lo) in the gang, they can be called Big K for example. Or Elder Ma. If someone is an old hermit they be referred to as Uncle Guo. Or Aunt Jie. And people will use these pronouns without the name just as often if they aren’t familiar with the person. So if the new guy gets invited to a party where there are a lot of dai los, he will just call them dai lo or elder brother. And the kid will be called sai lo. More on all this in the slang/proverbs guide.

 

 

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The newer generations have accustomed themselves to life in the United States more and have an easier time growing up. But that doesn’t mean the culture is trodden, it means exactly the opposite. Chinatowns all over the world celebrate that culture and hold to it tightly both in everyday life and yearly events like the Chinese New Year and other celebrations. The older generation of Chinese hold tight to traditions, family, roots and keep in touch with their relatives across the sea. And try to row on these traditions over to their children. However, there are people who have grown up in more Americanized households and don’t hold these values to such a higher standard, especially among the youth. These youth will abide the standards of their American peers with a mix of culture they draw from their environment. Chinatown encapsulates that environment perfectly, it’s a mix of the roots from whence it came, but at the same time it represents what life is for these people like in America. Opportunity.

 

 

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5.1 Tongs and associated gangs
 

When Chinese first immigrated into the U.S they brought with their American dream their traditions. Part of these traditions were and still is gambling. And due to most of these first immigrants being labourers who worked on railroads, there weren’t a lot of women, instead there were bachelors. This meant that Chinatown was literally a goldmine for prostitution and gambling. And who became to be the landmarks of these activities? Tongs. Tongs weren’t always meant to be couriers of malicious and illicit activities, quite the contrary. They were created to help Chinese labourers and communities in continuing their life, traditions and culture in the American society. The key was benevolence. However, in China, gambling was part of the societal norm. It was a social activity, almost like eating. In late 19th century tongs controlled all of the gambling and prostitution joints across Chinatowns. 

 

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The years of the Tongs went on until the end of the Tong Wars. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and its subsequent fires destroyed the Chinatown ghettos, gambling halls, and brothels, killed about 3,000 people. This along with legislation destroyed a lot of the old Tongs that formed in the previous century. However, some remained at large and took their activities across several Chinatowns. Some remained warring in San Francisco, but at a much much smaller scale than previously. 

 

Tongs however, remained benevolent in their activities, aimed mostly in helping out their community throughout the years. There still remained illicit activity, as Chinatown was still a goldmine of opportunity for illegal markets. This cultivated in the 80’s when Chinese youth gangs began to make allys with tongs and enforce markets for tong members with reach in the community. The history repeated itself in that gangs couldn’t share territory and fell into a clash much like in the Tong Wars of 19th century. This ended after what is now known as the 1977 Golden Dragon massacre. Police cracked down on gang members and created the Asian Gang Unit in San Francisco. Tongs are active to this day, very few associated with some illegal activity, but a lot of them are fully benevolent associations that oversee the growth of community life.

 

5.2 Triads

 

A triad is a term referencing to one of the many branches of Chinese transnational organized crime syndicates. This wikipedia link lists most currently known triad organizations that are active either in China or internationally. 

 

There are a lot of misconceptions about triads, I might not be able to flip all of them here, so throw me a PM if you have any still after reading this.

 

Not all Chinese criminal organizations are triads. By using the term triad, we refer to the secret societies mostly originating in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. These groups that follow a code of conduct and initiation rites that date back centuries. Wikipedia says: “According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "triad" is a translation of the Chinese term San Ho Hui, or Triple Union Society, referring to the union of Heaven, Earth, and Man.

 

Another theory assumes that the term "Triad" was coined by British authorities in colonial Hong Kong, as a reference to the triads' use of triangular imagery. Despite the generic use of the term "Triads" being associated with all Chinese criminal organizations, this is a mistake. Triad groups are geographically, ethnically, culturally and structurally unique. "Triads" refers to traditional organized crime groups originating from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Criminal organizations operating in or originating from mainland China are named as "mainland Chinese criminal groups" or "black societies". Moreover, after years of harsh repression, only some parts of Triad groups are involved with illegal activities, using their connections to make profit instead of dirty money. Also, Triads in Hong Kong are getting less involved with regular crime and becoming more associated with White Collar crimes, and traditional initiation ceremonies rarely take place anymore to avoid authorities' attention.”
 

The sole act of being a triad is illegal in China, so a lot of these members have sought to take their criminal activities elsewhere and become parts of international webs. However, contrary to a common belief, there is no one monolithic triad or organization that controls all members of a triad group. Hierarchy exists, but the activities are more ad hoc, they resemble more of a web of interlinked people who know more or less what their job is. That is part of the reason why it’s hard to crack down on their activities by the police.

 

 

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Slang lingo/proverbs are a huge part of Chinese identity. They think and speak words that are metaphors contrary to how English works. When taken over into America, there is a lot of cultural clashes and in roleplaying Chinese there is much to be taken over from Chinese and put into the context of our roleplay. For that, I’ve transcribed some words from a book that’s been helpful over the years. However, there is much more and this is just more as an example than be used as a bible (even though this has been done by members of my previous factions as well).

 

The key is to invent your own slang, think of the background where your character is. Look into how people in San Francisco talk, what street slang they use and make it your own. Combine Chinese proverbs with street slang and see what you come up with. Name streets and even the city by your own lingo, this is an endless road and as we have roleplayed our slang has always been adapting. This is true for Chinese criminal groups as well. I remember this article I read that I always keep reminding myself when I talk about slang; it’s about when the first unit by the police was created in the 80s to tap and pursue Asian gangs. As soon as they heard what they were saying, they realized they didn’t understand a single word, even if it was in English. That’s because language is literally code, this is especially true for Chinese. So mix up your lingo and create new meanings constantly for your characters. Use whatever you can, whatever is funny, whatever is cool.

This is from a book by Christopher Hutton called A Dictionary of Cantonese slang and a mix of other sources. Some of which can be found with some research.

 

These should be used by people who have a background of Hong Kong or Cantonese roots.

 

Excerpt of preface by the author: "I have been recognized as a police triad expert since 1972, and my evidence has been accepted by law courts in Hong Kong and overseas countries.

From 1984 I began working on triad matters for the OCTB, and I have carried out much research myself on the history of triads and triad language. “

 

The key to using these is figuring out how you can turn some of these into your character's normal slang and learn to use them regularly. You don't have to use all of them, or learn the Cantonese writing, but you can make your own slang per se. Some of them can be used in plain English if it doesn’t sound too foreign or weird.

 

Examples:

Trent Cheung says: (Cantonese) We were out of there faster than a blink.

Trent Cheung says: (Cantonese) Even the old cunt ran. (Everybody was running)

Michael Leung says: (Cantonese) What happened to old Mui?

* Trent Cheung laughs.

Trent Cheung says: (Cantonese) Old fart Mui got kicked by the tortoise. (Caught by the police)

 

or

 

James Wang says: (Cantonese) I don't know what's going on, one day I'm lucky as a dragon, next I'm broke. (one day I have luck, next day I don’t)

Timmy Chu says: Ahh...

* Timmy Chu taps his index against the middle of his right hand.

Timmy Chu says: (Cantonese) Chop off fingers. (Stop gambling)

 

There are more traditional proverbs that are more common in not only for criminal use but for civilians, these can be found easily on google.

Examples of these:

James Wang says: (Cantonese) This place is packed.

Timmy Chu says: (Cantonese) People mountain, people sea…

 

or

Trent Cheung says: (Cantonese) Jack stabbed him in the gut without a blink. The dude is fucking cold.

Michael Leung says: (Cantonese) And he seemed so likable.

Trent Cheung says: (Cantonese) Buddha mouth, snake heart.

 

A list of fully transcribed slang can be found here. Credit goes to myself, Mickay, Apophis & Shah Of Persia for these findings as well as formatting: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1kUZrFLq5t2HVsGpqCSQcUenkAyBggvg__N_wrc2kJRI/edit#gid=0

Edited by Lei
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This is and always has been, hands down, the best guide for Chinese characters/factions. @Leiif you ever had time, I think you should add on about how to properly type out the phonics of broken English spoken by a Chinese person. You guys nailed it back in the day with Water Room Gang.

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In fact, most of China's gangsters come from Hong Kong and Taiwan. In mainland China, to be honest, gangsters are hard to find. Pretty much before 1999, if I have to say so.
So if you want to play an illegal organization, the background of the character should be Hong Kong or Taiwan.
There are also in Guangzhou, but few, few, few.

If the game's worldview were synchronous and realistic, the following phrases would be commonly used across much of the Chinese continent:

操你妈,傻逼,脑残,你妈死了,操你祖宗十八代. And so on.


I am a player from China.

Edited by Orlando
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